Flexed out. Over a defensive end. Flaring into the flat. The tight end in the Tennessee offense is vital.
"We need production from that position,” second-year coach Butch Jones said. “We like to play with a tight end but we would also like to get into two tight end sets as well. Each individual in this group has their own strengths but they’re athletic, they are tough, they need to stay in the weight room and get bigger but again, Ethan (Wolf) has the combination where he can be an attached tight end, he can be a detached tight end out on the perimeter. He has really improved his blocking skills, he has benefited from spring football along with Daniel Helm. So those two individuals I have been really pleased with so far. We will find out a little bit more now with the shells going on tomorrow."
Both the freshmen — Helm at No. 3 and Wolf at No. 5 — ranked as Scout four-stars and were two of the jewels in a Big Orange signing class that finished fourth nationally.
Those two, combined with a now-healthy Alex Ellis, give the Volunteers a trio of formidable SEC athletes at the position as senior Brendan Downs and sophomore A.J. Branisel recover from knee injuries.
"We have some depth and we have some competition,” Jones said. “As we know, everything in our football program is about competition. So to be able to go out there and have these individuals competing is great and that elevates the play of everyone."
Helm and Wolf passed on enjoy the second portion of their senior years in high school in Illinois and Ohio, respectively, to enroll in classes in Knoxville. The bonus time in the Anderson Training Center weight room paid off.
Tennessee tight ends coach Mark Elder points at Helm and the “transformation of his body over the summer was big as far as he looks much bigger, he’s put on a lot of good muscle.”
"We don’t have tight ends that are simply just big receivers." — Mark Elder
Wolf showed up at 6-feet-5, 240 pounds and lists presently but has “redistributed his weight.”
“We don’t have tight ends that are simply just big receivers,” Elder said. “We’re going to ask our guys to do a lot of things. Part of that is going to be flexed out and be a receiver and run darn near every route that all those receivers are running. But, we’re also going to line them up right next to the tackle and we’re going to expect them to be able to base-block a defensive end and win every single time.”
Downs, who’s also 6-5, 240, has more game experience than the other three combined with 18 receptions for 143 yards with three touchdowns.
“Brendan has game experience,” Jones said, “and he has done a great job of coming back from his injury and working himself into very good condition. He is being challenged each and every day. But Brendan Downs is a team player, he is from Tennessee, he understands what it is to represent this storied football program and he works hard every single day."
After a week of camp, both Branisel and Downs sport knee braces and could provide roles but Ellis and Wolf have infused athleticism and some playmaking ability into the position that’s greatly needed for a passing offense that totaled just 1,979 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013.
“We’re expecting the tight ends to be a big part of the offense,” said Elder, who also pointed to his group’s competition level being much higher.
See the tight ends at work during training camp in Knoxville by clicking play on the InsideTennessee video below:
Highlights of tight ends
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